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Covered Barns Offer Many Advantages Over Open Feedlots

by Jason Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Des Moines, Iowa
August 2017

A Shelby County livestock producer converted his hillside open feedlot to a monoslop building to better contain manure runoff.Open feedlots – where livestock are exposed to the elements – are considered by many to be the cheapest way to run a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), but they can also pose the greatest risk to the environment.

Many open feedlots sit on sloping landscapes, where manure can easily runoff into streams, rivers, or other water bodies.

Even after installing a filter strip or sediment basin to slow runoff, pollution can occur during certain conditions, unless waste storage (total containment) is installed, says Christian Osborn, state conservation engineer with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

For existing open feedlot owners, or those interested in raising livestock, Osborn says your local NRCS conservationist may recommend a roofed building option that totally contains manure as a viable option to better protect the environment and potentially enhance production.

Types of Containment Buildings
This hoop building in Union County, Iowa is helping the father-son operators to better manage manure and keep their animals healthy.Mark Garrison, environmental engineer with NRCS in Iowa, says there are two basic types of covered, total containment buildings: bedded (solid manure) pack barns and deep pit (liquid manure) barns.

Bedded pack barns include metal roofed, timbered A-frames and steel framed mono-slopes, or canvas covered hoop buildings. These types of buildings typically have concrete walls and floors, multiple bedded pens, a contained manure storage area, curtains for weather extremes, along with feeding and watering areas.

A deep pit barn for liquid manure is another total containment building option. They are roofed, similar to bedded pack barns, but they include a liquid manure storage area underneath a concrete slatted floor. Rather than scraping, livestock producers pump manure out of the deep pit when they are ready to use it.

Deep pit barns often cost more than bedded pack barns due to the additional cost of the concrete needed for the deep pit, says Garrison.

Deciding between a bedded pack building or a deep pit building will depend on the producer’s personal and economic choice. For example, a producer may choose a bedded pack building due to the lower risk of spills by handling solid manure.

Assistance Available
Osborn says local NRCS staff are available to provide planning assistance to livestock producers, whether they are treating an existing feedlot with runoff containment or converting a feedlot to a confined roofed system. NRCS also offers financial assistance programs, such as the Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), that can help cut the cost of feedlot or confined waste management systems.

Livestock producers interested in EQIP to address their CAFO concerns must complete a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP). A CNMP helps define the management and treatment practices necessary to address the resource concerns, and provide an operation and maintenance roadmap for the conservation practices installed.

For more information about open feedlot management, visit your local NRCS office or go to